My husband Rudy and I flew from our home in Austin, Texas, to Los Angeles in early June. This was not for a vacation. We were going to see a specialist, who has been treating me for the past two years, about a rare medical condition I have. A week before we left, I was tested for COVID-19. The results were negative, but I was about to undergo days of anxiety chasing after test results.
When we arrived for our departure at the Austin airport on June 3, no one asked whether we had COVID-19 or had been exposed to anyone with the virus. No one took our temperature, and numerous people were not wearing masks. This is Texas after all.
We had read that our airline was not selling middle seats. False. About half the middle seats were taken on the flight. A young man appeared in the aisle and told us he had an assigned seat between my husband and me. Rudy asked him if he’d mind finding a different seat and he graciously moved to an empty one a few rows behind us.
When we arrived at Los Angeles International Airport, an old college friend picked us up. Rudy and I sat in the backseat. We all wore N-95 masks. The situation was comical. My friend and I had protested the Vietnam War together in Washington, D.C., back in 1969 — that seems like a picnic compared to what the world is facing now.
A rushed, possibly shoddy test
These days, patients need to test negative for COVID-19 within 48 hours of any surgical procedures. The three of us drove directly to a testing site located in a parking lot garage. The place appeared chaotic and it we felt rushed because the site was closing early due to a mandatory city curfew. I saw no less than three people handle my specimen tube, but I was confident the test would be negative since the Austin test had been negative.
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On the drive downtown, it was terrifying to witness buildings that had been looted or burned down during protests. That night, we stayed in a lovely Airbnb close to the hospital but sirens blared in the distance and a helicopter whirled nearby. Then the house began to shake. My friend called to report there had been an earthquake in Los Angeles that registered 5.1 on the Richter scale that night.
Having lived in New York, New Mexico, and Texas, I had no idea where one goes during an earthquake. Hide under the bed? Stand in a doorway? Go outdoors? I asked my friend, a longtime Los Angeles resident, if this was normal for L.A. She responded that nothing is normal for L.A.
The next morning, when I arrived at the hospital’s admissions department at 6:30 a.m., the desk clerk informed me that my procedure had been cancelled and refused to tell me why. Moments later, my doctor called and informed me that my COVID-19 test results were positive. I was in shock and quite distraught. I had no symptoms. What should I do?
Long road back to negative
In good conscience, we could not get on a plane to fly home, so we rented a car and drove back from Los Angeles to Austin.
To add insult upon injury, most public restrooms on the route were closed to the public. We were forced to use the great outdoors. We chose not to stay in a motel because if I was truly coronavirus positive, I didn't want to spread it; and if I was negative, I was spooked enough that I didn’t want to risk exposure at a roadside motel. We ended up sleeping a few hours in the rental car parked in an upscale neighborhood in Tucson, Arizona.
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It took us 24 hours to drive to Austin. We lived on muffins and fruit we’d brought with us and we thanked the powers-that-be for books on tape. We arrived home around 6 p.m. on Friday, June 5. My neck, back, and shoulders ached.
The following Monday, Rudy and I had were tested yet again for the coronavirus. Neither of us had experienced any symptoms. Tuesday morning, we learned that both our tests were negative.
It turns out, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state there is a small chance diagnostic tests result in a false positive or even a false negative. A number of factors can make a test less reliable — the instruments and chemicals used in the test, for instance, or the way the sample is collected. Contamination can lead to false-positives, as I suspect was the case with the rushed job done before my surgery.
I couldn't stand the idea of going back to Los Angeles after everything that happened, where nothing seemed normal. Thankfully, I was able to have my local doctor perform the procedure, after collaborating with the specialist in California.
Hopefully this is the end of my testing nightmare. The consequences of delaying my medical treatment due to a false-positive test result could have been serious. Do your due diligence, folks.
Lara Reznik is a New York native who has lived in Austin, Texas, for 25 years. She is the author of three novels, "The Girl From Long Guyland," "The M&M Boys," and "Bagels & Salsa."